Things to Read - Photography for Beginners

(In the second photo from the top, all books shown are part of Scott Kelby's Digital Photography Boxed Set, Volumes 1, 2, and 3. In the last photo, on the left is Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography (Updated Edition) and on the right is Visual Poetry: A Creative Guide for Making Engaging Digital Photographs.)

In the last few months, I've had a few emails and questions about photography and cameras. So I thought I'd write a post, which is always a little nerve racking as I'm self-taught. I started focusing on photography as a hobby about 3 years ago when my husband bought me my first SLR camera for Christmas (Canon EOS Rebel T2i 18 MP CMOS APS-C Digital SLR Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD and EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens). This means I've never shot film with anything but a point-and-shoot and I've never been in a darkroom (excluding an awful biochemistry lab where I left the door open) so I'm relatively new at this (thus take my advice with a grain of salt).

If you're totally new to photography, the first thing you need to do is learn (by heart, just like a language) all about aperture, shutter speed and ISO. This part isn't really fun, it's sort of like school, but if you want to take your camera off automatic (and if you don't, then you'll be pretty limited in what you do), you have to learn it. Plus you should know what every button on your camera does (yes, every button). I recommend buying a supplemental owner's manual, for the Rebel I recommend this book - The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi/450D Companion. I also took an adult education intro to photography class, which, honestly didn't help much. If you are interested in a starter class and you live in the DC area, then I HIGHLY recommend Eliot Cohen's classes (through Glen Echo or the Smithsonian), Eliot is one of the best teachers I've ever had (including law school).

After you learn the fundamentals, I recommend Scott Kelby's Digital Photography Boxed Set, Volumes 1, 2, and 3. For me, these books provided several lightbulb type moments (as in "so that's how they do it!"). So helpful, in so many ways. Plus, they cover several different types of subject matter (weddings, portraits, studio, nature, sports, etc.)

I never attended an art class before I took up photography, so I knew nothing about composition. For example, I think I felt the ground move when I learned about the rule of thirds, I was so impressed. I found the book Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography (Updated Edition) extremely helpful for developing a better trained eye. I've also heard good things about The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos, but I find the analysis somewhat scientific and a little hard to read.

For general points and tips, I really liked Chris Orwig's Visual Poetry: A Creative Guide for Making Engaging Digital Photographs, which is full of useful advice and pointers such as "[r]ather than just looking for the picture perfect, I've become interested in the moments in between the action. I look for the ones before or after the performance" and "[w]hile smiles can be wonderful, many times in portrait photography smiles are not the goal." For Xmas I also received Expressive Photography: The Shutter Sisters' Guide to Shooting from the Heart, which has several stories about finding inspiration along with general composition and lighting pointers.

Regarding inspiration, I think the best thing you can do is to open a flickr account and find other photographers who inspire you. Visit their blogs, visit their websites. Study them. Try copying their style for awhile. Look for photography exhibits in your area and visit them. Soak up as much as you can. For example, I have a great list of photography blogs on my blogroll, I look to these frequently and though they intimidate me, I still keep trying. Remember that you're a work in progress. One day you may take a great picture and it may be months before you take another great one. So be it. Tackle a 365 project. Make goals. Try harder. Even when you don't have your camera on you, think of the shot you would have taken. Frame it in your mind. I do this about 100 times a day. At least. Also, never miss an opportunity to take a great shot - so you're at a family reunion in bright sunlight at noon (the worst possible time for photos) and there's no shade in site and nobody is smiling - how can you make this work? Try.

I shoot all my photos with a Canon EOS 7D 18 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3-inch LCD (Body Only) (I upgraded from the Rebel about a year ago), which is truly a wonderful camera, and a Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM Standard & Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras (beautiful for portraits). The lens matters as much as the camera. Really. And I would love to upgrade to an L series someday. For all my flash photos I use a Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash for Canon Digital SLR Cameras and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND purchasing an external flash unit (the pop up flash on your camera results in crappy pictures). I also use Lightroom and Photoshop for ALL my photos. I've spent a TREMENDOUS amount of time learning how these programs work. And I still have a long way to go.

Was this helpful? Please let me know. Obviously I'm still learning and growing, some days are better than others, so, again, take my advice with a grain of salt, this is just what has worked for me (so far).

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